Atlanta-born indie-pop, shoegaze, garage-bop, noise-rock, ambient, neo-psych pioneers, Deerhunter, sit comfortably in genre-bent territory they’ve worked hard to establish on their latest LP, Fading Frontier.
Fading Frontier is Deerhunter’s impressive seventh studio album since the band’s conception in 2001, and the second since their magnum opus, Halcyon Digest, which brought them to indie superstar status in 2010, alongside MGMT, Animal Collective and the like. Since their commercial success, frontman Bradford Cox, went on to form solo project Atlas Sound, breeding the radio hit “Mona Lisa,” reserving the truly weird stuff for Deerhunter, as placed in the disappointing 2013 Monomania.
Fading Frontier seems to be the comeback the band needed, marrying mainstream with classic dazed Deerhunter style. The nine-track, 36-minute album is modest and spacey and familiar and new and uncomfortable and fun and introspective. If the sound has changed, then the aura has remained. Deerhunter show much-needed maturity on Fading Frontier, a bittersweet departure from the stoned-in-a-basement algorithm that has guided their music thus far.
Album-opener “All the Same” evidences the band’s return to form with sunbaked, wispy guitars, and Cox’s unapologetic embracing of the doldrums of familiarity. The narrative debunks a banality in daily life, and rather admits that unnecessary change is unnecessary, while sameness is safe but depressing. The song sonically picks up where Deerhunter left off several albums ago, serving as a tepid easing into what’s to come on Fading Frontier.
“Will you tell me when you find out how to recover the lost years/I’ve spent all of my time chasing a fading frontier,” Cox sings on “Living My Life,” one of the album’s standout tracks. Looped melodies and layered vocal lines, carbon copied from Merriweather Post Pavilion, intensify the good vibes on “Living My Life,” a song of optimism in the face of alienation and loss of self. The song functions thematically as supporting Deerhunter’s concerned avoidance of dissolving into obscurity.
Another standout on Fading Frontier is “Duplex Planet,” which is also the shortest song on the album. The track is a sped-up Lana Del Rey song, with a lot louder percussion and a busy harpsichord that is artfully placed in a truly infectious hook. “In your head you will fall asleep/And then you won’t remember me.” So begins the transition into darkness that is much more natural to hear from Deerhunter.
The six-minute, ambient ballad, “Leather and Wood,” impressively showcases Cox’s provocative wordplay and poetic chops in his songwriting. Just as a strung-out, computerized beep bop comes to climax, Cox weeps, “I believe we will find that elusive peace now/I can’t believe there is no hope,” and the beep bop unravels beautifully and melancholic. Enter “Snakeskin,” the faultlessly upbeat, fun, feel-good juxtaposition to follow. “Snakeskin” was the first and strongest single, released back in August. It’s a precise rock song with a pronounced bass groove and very catchy guitar riffs.
Fading Frontier is the most accessible Deerhunter album to date. Accessible does not mean stripped or cheapened, rather, this record is a comprehensive collection that perfectly bridges the psychedelic and the standard. Bradford Cox’s ambitious intention to create a good-sounding lethargic album was executed very well. Though it lacks consistency and is repetitive at times, Fading Frontier is a great bring-on-the-changing-leaves album, solidifying Deerhunter as cult favorites.